Magical Hack: Dissension In The Ranks

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Sean turns his eye toward the spoilered cards of Dissension, giving us a thorough exploration of each guild and its place in the Limited game. Want the low-down on the cards to watch out for in the weekend’s prerelease tournaments? This article is for you…

Every week, I follow a repeating ritual for writing this column. I try to start on Monday, or at least think about the elements I want to draw together and the things I want to discuss, so I have plenty of time for information-gathering and fact-checking. At the very latest I’m tapping away at the keyboard come Wednesday, and I do try to have it finished by Wednesday evening so I can send it to our esteemed editor in enough time for him to not have a conniption. I try to leave personal anecdotes out of the column, with varying success; some weeks, there’s nothing much to talk about besides what I’ve been working on and what I’ve been exploring, while others I get to present the week’s events completely devoid of my personality, except as it comes up in my particular style of writing.

Every week, the bulk of my writing happens on my morning commute, as I take a train to and from work as I reverse-commute from Queens to Long Island. This gives me a solid hour or so of writing time on a laptop each way, and sitting on a train while writing is a good way to pass the time, and a relaxing background. But as I write this today, I feel compelled to bring that background closer to the foreground, at least in part because I have just heard something incredibly, incredibly stupid. This of course reminds me of my task this week, which is to look at all the known information made public solely through official spoilers, here on StarCityGames.com and (primarily) on MagicTheGathering.com.

Every time a new set comes out, a lot of intelligent discourse occurs as the set is reviewed. The cards analyzed and digested and spat out for the edification of the masses. And sometimes, just sometimes, something incredibly stupid is said… it’s the Nature of the Beast, requiring an incredible amount of thought to do properly and inevitably done in an astoundingly short amount of time. Like saying that Skullclamp is bad because it kills your creatures, and why would you ever want to do that (I don’t know, maybe because you’d like two cards?)… or that Devouring Greed was unplayable because you would never want to invest as many cards as it would take to make it good into a single spell only to see it met with Thoughtbind, a common from the same set.

This particular overheard stupidity hearkens a bit back to Johnny Rizzo’s article this week, which foreshadows his turning 37 in a few weeks by tip-toeing around the inevitable “when did I get so old?” question. Being 26 myself, I don’t get that feeling terribly often, but when it comes to blatantly stupid misuse of mid-Eighties lore and references, I do get that feeling. Now, to share the stupidity of the world around me as I type merrily away, to be followed by actually continuing my article for this week:

(Overheard from a teenager having a conversation on his cell phone…)
“No, dude, you’re not the Hamburglar… you can’t just pay me Tuesday for a hamburger today!”

I don’t honestly know which of these two is the more blatantly stupid: that he is mis-assigning the famous line, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” to the Hamburglar instead of Popeye’s friend Wimpy, or that he is assigning any kind of a complete sentence at all to the character of the Hamburglar. I guess it’s a good thing that an old favorite such as Popeye has managed to persist in some form into the consciousness of modern youth, what with good old-fashioned cartoons nowadays replaced with Yu-Gi-Oh! and Shaolin Showdown and other “modern” excitements, popcorn for the eyes. But… do you know what the Hamburglar said? Every line he ever said can be summed up thusly:


Not the surprisingly eloquent, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”.

This somehow reminds me of set reviews. (No wonder people thought I wrote the Mark Rosewater portion of StarCityGames.com April Fools joke this year!) Inevitably, no matter the author, something will slip beneath the cracks of consciousness or experience and a card will be mis-assigned. Its role will either be vastly overstated or completely missed, because you cannot look at 165 or 340 or however many cards come in an entire expansion as a whole and take them entirely in context. Coming up before the Prerelease, we have been given a few cards to look at. We’ve been given peeks and teasers and spoilers for months now; ever since the release of Guildpact, we’ve known simply by the process of elimination that Dissension was going to be the home of the Blue/White, Blue/Green and Red/Black guilds, and that some of the cards would be Signets and Shock-lands and Karoos and guild legends and guildhalls. But for all the information that is known, there is a vast wealth of information that is not, and it is that background that puts everything into context.

That said, to prepare for the Prerelease this weekend, some passing familiarity with what is going on would seem to me to be inordinately helpful. Learning beforehand what the guilds try to do, what they focus on, and how they accomplish it can give you an idea of how the unknown will mesh with the known… what those three booster packs of Dissension will look like mashed in with a starter deck of Ravnica.

B/R – The Cult of Rakdos
From the previews so far, we have seen the following:

Known Creatures:
Lysola, the Blood Witch – Three-mana 3/1 card advantage and Shock machine.
Avatar of Discord – Three-mana 5/3 flier with a hefty penalty… for the non-Hellbent.
Rakdos Augermage – Jin, Master of Disruption, with a twist.
Rakdos Pit Dragon – Hellbent nightmare double-striking, firebreathing Dragon. 3/3 for four with a boatload of powerful abilities.
Rakdos the Defiler – Six-mana 7/6 flying trampler with a sacrificial kick… for you, and for whomever you happen to hit with him.

Known Spells:
Wrecking Ball – Four-mana instant-speed destruction of a creature or land.

So far, the Cult of Rakdos has shown us their Rares, with a bunch of bizarre Rare creatures that seem incredibly powerful, incredibly risky, and often both rolled into one. It’s also shown us a common removal spell, four mana to kill your man or your land at instant speed. As we’re likely to live or die at the Prerelease based on the strength of the commons that are plentiful instead of the occasional lucky Rare, from the previewed material so far we know almost nothing about how this Guild will play out.

U/G – The Simic Combine
From the previews so far, we have seen the following:

Known Creatures:
Cytoplast Manipulator – Four mana 2/2 with Graft, which can steal creatures that have +1/+1 counters on them.
Experiment Kraj – Six-mana legend that passes out +1/+1 counters and gains activated abilities like they’re going out of style.
Simic Guildmage – 2/2 for two hybrid, of course… that passes around enchantments and +1/+1 counters from whoever’s got them to whoever needs them.

Known Spells:

Like the Cult of Rakdos, so far the Simic Combine has shown us practically nothing of what we’ll likely be playing with of theirs, showing off just two of its Rare creatures and the very tricky (and likely very powerful in Limited) Guildmage that passes around a wealth of wonderful things, on either side of the board, to maximum advantage. We’re definitely catching a theme, of complex machinations based around the distribution of +1/+1 counters, for good or for ill.

U/W – The Azorius Senate
From the previews so far, we have seen the following:

Known Creatures:
Pride of the Clouds – Two-mana 1/1 flier… that gets +1/+1 for each flying friend on either side, that can Forecast for four mana to make a bonus flier each turn it’s in your hand.

Known Spells:
Aethermage’s Touch – For four mana, Impulse a creature into play, put it in your hand at the end of your next turn. Tricky, and risky, but with benefits.
Dovescape – Six (hybrid) mana enchantment that says your spells are going to the birds.

And the Azorius have shown us zero nonrare cards, plus some rather confusing ones at that. Pride of the Clouds looks like a good little beater, or a flying Outpost, which means it will likely prove absolutely awesome in Standard… but we’re looking for the Prerelease. We know nothing about this Guild from the official sneak peeks alone.

We have also seen three split cards, Izzet forking and/or countering spells, Boros playing Wing Shards, Selesnya making tokens, the Azorius cleverly searching for the right spell, the Orzhov taking whatever they want out of the other guy’s trash, and the Golgari unleashing a pinpoint wave of death exactly where it is needed.

Sorry, I must have failed you all. An anecdote about idiots and the Hamburglar, and my failed attempt at helping you out at the Prerelease. Good night and good luck!

Yeah, you got me. But wait, there’s more! For those who aren’t waiting patiently at their computers staring at MagicTheGathering.com looking for the next preview, there’s another verifiable and very much so official source of previewed information… meant to be seen by the judges who need to know what, in general, these cards can do before they issue rulings on card interactions. There is of course also the much-beloved spoiler compiled lovingly by the people at MtgSalvation.com, but it’s unofficial and therefore could be wrong. Probably isn’t, but definitely could be. I don’t take such risks with my advice, so unless I’ve seen the card with my own two eyes I’ll be limiting us to the wealth of information already available through official channels.

Let’s back this sucker up and try it again, shall we?


Multicolored versus Mono-colored – This is a cycle of cards that rewards multicolored play, by having a powerful effect that is only available for multicolored creatures in play or that punishes single-colored play. Where Invasion Block’s “color matters” theme was about the direct impact of individual colors, trying to maximize the number of them you had, or increasing the weight of creatures sharing the same colors, here instead we have a theme that benefits those who spend more colors of mana on their creatures. At least one creature in the set has the benefit if “counting as if it were all five colors,” despite being a (technically) colorless artifact. What benefits can you get for being multicolored, and what punishments are out there for those who don’t want to pay a lot (of colors) for their muffler? For example:

Psychotic Fury
Target multicolored creature gains double strike until end of turn. Draw a card.

Guardian of the Guildpact
Creature – Spirit
Protection from monocolored.

Enhance Or Die! – In Ravnica, the enhanced spells were nifty things that did even more if you paid the “right” color of mana for them. In Guildpact, we saw enhanced creatures that came into play and had bonus spell-like effects if you paid the right color of mana for them. In Dissension, now we see enhanced creatures with spell-like effects… but if you didn’t pay the right color of mana for them, you don’t get to keep the creature.

Azorius Herald
Creature – Spirit
Azorius Herald is unblockable.
When Azorius Herald comes into play, you gain 4 life. When Azorius Herald comes into play, sacrifice it unless U was spent to play it.

Crypt Champion
Creature – Zombie
Double strike
When Crypt Champion comes into play, each player puts a creature card with converted mana cost 3 or less from his or her graveyard into play. When Crypt Champion comes into play, sacrifice it unless R was spent to play it.

Squealing Devil
Creature – Devil
When Squealing Devil comes into play, you may pay {X}. If you do, target creature gets +X/+0 until end of turn. When Squealing Devil comes into play, sacrifice it unless B was spent to play it.

B/R – The Cult of Rakdos

Known Creatures:
Demon’s Jester – Your standard issue 2/2 flier for four, but with a ‘Hellbent’ twist: +2/+1.
Crypt Champion – Reanimation and double-strike on a 2/2 for four, but you don’t get to keep the man unless you’ve spent both Black and Red.
Flame-Kin War Scout – A mighty 2/4 for four that dies when another creature comes into play… to knock that creature for four damage.
Gnat Alley Creeper – Your standard mediocre-looking 3/1 for three, but at least it doesn’t trade with Surveilling Sprites.
Kill Suit Cultists – 1/1 for one Red mana, which can sacrifice itself to destroy a creature that is receiving damage to it. “Trades” with any creature it fights with, and can team up with bigger removal spells (or Viashino Fangtail) to impressive effect.
Rakdos Guildmage – Possessed of two four-mana abilities; the first discards a card to give a creature –2/–2 until end of the turn, while the second cranks out single-use hasty Goblin tokens.
Slithering Shade – A one-mana Looming Shade, that happens to be a Wall… But not if you have Hellbent active!
Squealing Devil – A “fearsome” two-mana creature that plays Howl from Beyond… but you only get to keep it if you’ve spent both Black and Red.
Stormscale AnarchStormbind with legs, and with extra benefits: if the card discarded was multicolored, he deals four, not two.
Unliving Psychopath – An 0/4 Wall for four mana, that just happens to pump its power at the cost of its toughness, and tap to kill things that look weaker than it does.

Known Spells:
Psychotic Fury – Double-strike up a multicolored guy… and draw a card. For cheap.
Anthem of Rakdos – An enchantment that pumps your attackers, doubles your damage sources, and hits you for one damage for each creature you attack with.
Bond of Agony – A new twist on an X-damage spell: it may cause your opponent to lose X life, but it costs you that much life even to play it. ChannelFireball, but without the free mana part.
Brain Pry – A mix of Cabal Therapy and Duress, that cantrips itself if you miss.
Delirium Skeins – Everybody loses three cards! Everybody! Ha!
Ignorant Bliss – Better known as “Two With Nothing”, as it reads exactly the same… at instant speed, ditch your hand, all of it… except for the fact that you get it back at end of turn. And draw a card. For just one mana more than One With Nothing.
Nightcreep – Everybody’s Black, and everybody can only tap for Black, for the remainder of the turn. (No, I don’t get it either.)
Pain Magnification – An enchantment that costs your opponent a card every time he gets hit for three or more damage.
War’s Toll – An enchantment that puts an opponent’s lands, and an opponent’s creatures, all in the same boat: all creatures must attack if one does, and all lands become tapped if one does.
Kindle the Carnage – Discard cards at random to this Earthquake-like sorcery, dealing damage to each creature equal to the mana cost of the card discarded. And keep discarding at random until you’ve got it right!

The Guild-Hall:
Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace – Taps (at sorcery speed) to force each player to discard a card.

What They Do: The Rakdos so far seem to throw away resources with reckless abandon… theirs and yours alike. With an aggressive nature, they’ll probably hit you for more cards out of your hand than they hit themselves for, which leaves them with (hellbent!) early drops and you backpedaling just to have a chance at stopping their offensive push. They can spontaneously activate their Hellbent abilities without permanently costing them the contents of their hand, or even use tricks like that to protect their hand while they hit yours for some obscene number of cards discarded. They get big in a hurry, and are dangerous to have around, as quite a few of them are more concerned about seeing you dead than they are about seeing themselves still alive.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

U/G – The Simic Combine

Known Creatures:
Helium Squirter – Your standard issue 3/3 flier for five, except that it has Graft to get the 3/3, and passes around the Flying to anyone who has counters.
Loaming Shaman – A solid 3/2 for three, that shuffles in any number of used cards in either your graveyard or your opponents’. Three-mana answer to any number of Dredge cards, with a nice body attached.
Momir Vig, Simic Visionary – An expensive 2/2 for five, but one that allows you to tutor up and draw creatures out of your deck every time you play a Blue/Green creature.
Novijen Sages – A Grafted 4/4 for six, that sacrifices two +1/+1 counters off your side of the board to draw an extra card.
Omnibian – A 3/3 for four that thinks everyone else should be a 3/3 Frog, too. A bizarre equalizer in creature combats, upgrading a small attacker or downsizing a hefty blocker.
Sprouting Phytohydra – An 0/2 blocker that can make a potentially endless number of 0/2 blockers, effectively “unkillable” by conventional damage.
Vigean Hydropon – A 5/5 Grafter for three that can only contribute to the board by passing around the love. Still, that’s a lot of love…

Known Spells:
Biomantic Mastery – For seven mana, you draw a card for each creature in play. This could be a lot.
Cytoshape – For three mana, you can change one creature into a copy of another creature in play for a time. If the creature to be copied has Graft, and the target has no counters, it’s a Blue-Green Dark Banishing.
Elemental Resonance – Get a bunch of mana at the start of your main phase each turn by enchanting any permanent for fun and profit… to the tune of that card’s mana cost each turn.
Flash Foliage – Cantrip token generation, blocking an attacking creature… no matter what evasion that creature might happen to have.
Psychic Possession – Stop drawing your card each turn, to piggyback off of your opponent’s drawn cards instead.
Research & Development – Shuffle four cards from somewhere else into your deck, or offer your opponent a tough decision: three cards for you, three men for you, or some combination of the two?
Bound & Determined – Make your spells uncounterable and draw a card, for the cheap price of two mana, or sacrifice a creature to return a dead creature to your hand for each color if the sacrificed creature. Finally, a use for those Nephilim!
Stomp and Howl – Destroy an artifact and an enchantment. Kill your Signet and your Faith’s Fetters… limited in use, because it requires both, but potentially a rather nice effect.
Street Savvy – Lets you block Landwalkers. Nothing to see here, move along.

The Guild-Hall:
Novijen, Heart of Progress – A land that happily plinks a +1/+1 counter on each creature that has come into play so far the turn it is activated.

What They Do: The Simic seem to be a rather confusing bunch, with a powerful load of creatures looking to share the love with all the other mutants running around out there, interacting in bunches of ways with the +1/+1 counters they spread around to each other and their enemies. Their spells so far seem to be narrow and limited in scope, but when that scope crosses paths with what you are trying to accomplish, they can be absolutely ridiculous. Green is always efficient when it comes to making sizable creatures, and mixed in with Blue’s tricksy nature we get to see a lot of weird things that are very good at what they do… but from what we’ve seen, that may make your games something of a puzzle as you try and decrypt the best way to use your weird effects to actually impact the outcome of the game in your favor.

U/W – The Azorius Senate

Known Creatures:
Azorius Herald – For just White, gain four life for three mana. For White and Blue, you get to keep the 2/1 unblockable creature in addition to the four life. Sounds like an awesome deal to me!
Azorius Aethermage – Three mana for a 1/1 creature that lets you pay just one mana any time a card of yours is returned to your hand in order to draw a card. Out of context, this means nothing to us so far.
Azorius First-Wing – A 2/2 flier for UW with protection from Enchantments. This may or may not prove to be a liability, depending on how universal and how beneficial the enchantments in this set are. [Either way, a 2/2 flyer for two mana? Count me in! – Craig]
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV – A legendary 2/3 for four that increases the cost of your opponent’s spells while dropping the cost of yours by as much as two mana. Fair.
Isperia the Inscrutable – A five-mana flying 3/6 Legend, that lets you look at your opponent’s hand each turn it hits them, and may or may not tutor out Fliers every turn once she gets working.
Wakestone Gargoyle – A 3/4 flying Defender for four mana… that can temporarily animate all of your defenders and allow them to attack for the low price of 1W each turn.
Windreaver – A 1/3 chock full of tricky activated abilities, allowing it to compare almost favorably to everyone’s old favorite, Morphling. For the low price of 3UW, with both colors of mana fueling two of the four activated abilities. Unlike Morphling, this creature can pretend to be a 6/6 or better in combat.

Known Spells:
Steeling Stance – A three-mana instant +1/+1 for your creatures, able to Forecast for just one White mana to give a single creature +1/+1 until end of turn.
Azorius Ploy – For the low, low price of Wrath of lekniF, at instant speed you get to prevent two specific sets of combat damage: damage dealt to a creature of your choice, and damage dealt by target creature. An expensive semi-Fog that may be awesome, or may be dreck, and can possibly be both in the course of the same game.
Carom – A one-point damage redirection shield from one creature to another, for one White… and you draw a card. An awesome combat trick with nice benefits, consider it to be the equivalent of a cantrip +1/+1 for White… and that’s at its worst. At its best, it is tricky cantrip removal that also saves a creature from removal or trading in combat.
Overrule – UWX for a Power Sink-like counterspell effect… that also gives you X life in addition to requiring them to pay X mana. Sounds like a fun way to counter Red spells.

What They Do: So far, the Azorius seem to have an impressive air force, aggressively costed and gifted with a nice collection of cheap abilities that work well together. They also seem to like to sit back, prevent damage, redirect damage, counter spells, and gain life. This usually doesn’t sound like too hot of a bargain, but considering the high power level of their tricky cantrip Carom I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt… in Limited at least. (Clearly, in Constructed, where you can start off with four Pride of the Clouds in decks running Suntail Hawk and Lantern Kami, the Azorius don’t need the benefit of anyone’s doubt.) Their ability keyword is dangerous because it is hard to remove and creates potentially powerful repeating effects, while their creatures possess the greatest subtlety in how they work together… less synergistically than the Blue/Green creatures with their Graft strategies, but with more powerful rewards for any synergies you do uncover, since Blue/White seems to like doing things like “drawing cards” and “pretending to be Morphling” in their spare time.

What does this mean for the Prerelease, as far as meshing with the remaining Limited guilds from the first set?

Rakdos likes to focus on pushing an early advantage and punishing slow draws, just in a different way than the Boros Legion. Expect these two to get along fabulously when you have the cards, and be going in two completely opposite directions when you don’t have enough good Rakdos cards to pull off their enforced disregard for the late-game (as far as cards in hand goes). Rakdos also likes drawing good cards after it’s got its mutually-assured disruption in, so expect it to work well with the Dredge aspect of the Golgari, getting to re-use things being a better option than trusting the top of the deck to deliver the goods.

The Simic likes to focus on synergy and trickery and +1/+1 counters for friend and foe alike; they don’t necessarily mesh well with the Dimir cards, except for the fact that the Dimir also like being all sorts of tricky with their cards. The Simic should get along splendidly with the Golgari, who also like internal synergy and every once in a while (Shambling Shell, for example) can contribute to this general plan of +1/+1 counters all around. Fortunately, if you base yourself nicely around the Simic Combine, there is no difference between splashing for Dimir and splashing for Golgari. Coming out of one starter deck and three booster packs, a decent pool of Simic cards will probably complement a starter deck’s worth of Blue, Black, and Green cards quite nicely.

Alternately, if you don’t have the strength of Blue/Black/Green in your Ravnica starter but do have some Selesnya that’s worth looking at, you can combine Selesnya, Simic, and Azorius in one tasty Blue-Green-White package, enjoying the strengths of two thirds of your Dissension cards alongside a solid if unspectacular bridge guild. Considering that the Selesnya are underappreciated in the Ravnica block as it unfolded in Guildpact, but still contains cards like Glare, Hierarch, and the best Guildmage, I expect more than a few players will likely support their prerelease decks with this combination.

The rest… that which is known:
Bronze Bombshell – a 4/1 for four that explodes in your opponent’s hands for seven damage if they ever happen to gain control of it. Spawnbroker, anyone?
Ghost Quarter – A colorless land that plays Strip Mine… but gives the opponent the chance to look through their deck for any basic land and replace their lost land with it. A possible mana fixer, if an expensive one, when used on yourself… and a great tempo-stealer when used to destroy enemy Karoos. That it can also solve problems like facing down Vitu-Ghazi or Rix Maadi when few other cards can provide such an answer is also to its benefit. Play it if you’ve got it, it’s good enough.
Magewright’s Stone – A Voltaic Key for your creatures with activated abilities. Pretty nice for getting to use something like Wojek Embermage twice in a turn, and very playable if you have enough good activated abilities.
Muse Vessel – An effective reprint of Disrupting Scepter, stripping the opponent’s hand of cards one at a time. For one more mana in its initial cost however, you get two benefits. The cards are removed from the game, where they cannot be returned or Dredged or otherwise affect the game anymore… and for one mana each, you can gain the ability to play any of these discarded cards. Card advantage, anyone?
Transguild Courier – An artifact Hill Giant, four mana for a 3/3… that just happens to count as if he were all five colors of the rainbow. Fun for playing up the mono-colored versus multicolored theme we can see the beginnings of from here, one day in advance of the prerelease, and at the worst he’s a Hill Giant you can always cast no matter how horribly skewed your mana draw may have been.

Where previously we didn’t see much in the way of non-Guild playables, we see quite a bit more bleeding in this set, with some interesting usable cards floating around that can do powerful things. And I’m not kidding about Ghost Quarter: answers to difficult land-based problems are few and far between, and getting the chance to set yourself ahead on tempo by knocking off a double land after they’ve bounced one to their hand is a powerful option, as is the ability to fix your colored mana by trading two lands that aren’t the right color for one land that is. Any one by itself isn’t good enough on a colorless land, but all three together means it should be in your 40. And in your 60… but that will have to be a discussion for a few weeks from now.

Next week we will be looking at the implications of Dissension fleshing out the full Ravnica block, and learning some lessons about full-block Ravnica Limited in time for Pro Tour: Prague.

See you next week… except for those of you attending the NYC Dissension prerelease, whom I will likely see a good deal sooner.

Sean McKeown
[email protected]

“I know I should have told you, but I was so afraid you’d leave
And now there’s nothing left to say, or nothing that you’d believe
I never meant to hurt you with the things I couldn’t say
I promise you tomorrow while denying you today…”
– Stabbing Westward, “Torn Apart”